Sport Cricket The Ashes: Leadership questions raised after Australia’s day of Paine
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The Ashes: Leadership questions raised after Australia’s day of Paine

Australian skipper Tim Paine watches on from behind the stumps as Ben Stokes hits another six. Photo: Getty
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Tim Paine has been universally praised since becoming Australian captain. Raw, yes, but the man stepped up when Australia was at its lowest ebb after the ball-tampering scandal.

At Headingly the halo might have irreparably slipped.

Paine handled himself with grace and dignity in the aftermath of England’s miraculous recovery to win by one wicket, but the last hour of play did not help his cause as captain.

The skipper has hardly sparkled with the bat in this series and scored a mere 11 and a duck at Headingley. But winning form is good form when you are in charge.

Australia looked set to retain the Ashes after bowling England out for 67 then setting 359, a score higher than anything the hosts had ever chased down in cricket history.

At 9-286 all it looked promising, but then the Ben Stokes show hit full gear and Paine’s day fell apart.

Much of the criticism about the Paine’s performance has centred on the costly decision to review a Nathan Lyon lbw appeal, which appeared to be pitched clearly outside leg stump.

Ben Stokes would have been denied his moment of glory if Tim Paine had been more judicious in his use of Australia’s reviews. Photo: Channel Nine

That moment of madness used up Australia’s last review and meant there was no recourse when umpire Joel Wilson continued his poor series by failing to dismiss Stokes when he was caught dead in front the next over.

But perhaps the bigger issue with the 34-year-old Tasmanian’s captaincy in the final hour at Headingley was his field placings.

The supposed containment of Stokes failed, but did allow the England hero to blast away for five balls and then expose tailender Jack Leach to only one before the next over.

Leach made just one run off 17 balls in his partnership of 72 with Stokes. His one run levelled the Test match.

“Obviously when I first went in, it was about [the fact that] he was going to have a lot of the strike, being ready to run two, and I just broke it down into the balls that I had to face,” Leach told Sky in Britain.

Tim Paine congratulates Ben Stokes after England won the third Test. Photo: Getty

That the under-pressure batsmen were able to out-think Australia in the final overs has to be cause for concern.

The Nine commentators were critical at the time of field placements and former players were scathing in their assessment of the failed review.

Ian Chappell said Paine had “lost his brain”, while Ian Healy said “Paine burnt a review stupidly” and Mark Taylor offered: “You have to keep one [referral] in the bank for the ‘howler,’ and they did not do that”.

Paine has been quick to look forward, focusing much of his attention on consoling Nathan Lyon, who missed a crucial runout opportunity in the final overs.

“I said to him that if our players see him dealing with it really quickly and moving on, then our younger players are going to do the same thing,” Paine said.

“We turn up to Manchester or our next training session in a much better frame of mind, rather than have guys sulking or whatever you want to call it.

It hurts, deal with it, move on.

“Gazza (Lyon) is obviously extremely disappointed, but no one’s perfect.

“People make mistakes. The important thing is that when it happens, you cop it on the chin. You hold your head up, you stick together as a team and walk off together.

“Those losses hurt and you are allowed to show that but … [if] you let things drag on and you get caught up in the emotion, it is just wasted energy.”

Wasted energy it might be, but it’s hard not to think that the rehabilitation of Steve Smith is gathering pace in the aftermath of his brave efforts with the bat at Lords.

Twelve months ago, former skipper Taylor had told Nine’s Sports Sunday program: “I still think Steve Smith can captain Australia”.

Expect cricket’s power brokers to be asking, how much longer can Tim Paine?

-with AAP